SHEFFIELD STEELERS’ may head into this weekend as the Elite League’s top team but – at this time of year – that matters little to captain Jonathan Phillips.
Gerad Adams’s team traded wins and league position with Braehead Clan last weekend before a hard-fought 3-2 win in overtime at home to Coventry Blaze saw the South Yorkshire club emerge top of the pile on Sunday night.
But, with barely a third of the league fixtures played, Phillips is keen to stress there is little to get excited about just yet.
“We’re there on merit obviously, and it’s a sign of the all the hard work put in by everyone so far this season,” said Phillips.
“But we are well aware there is a long way to go yet. The table is so tight at the moment - you only need one bad weekend and you can find yourselves mid-table.
“It’s not going to be easy to stay at the top.”
Steelers face a tough weekend on the road this weekend, beginning with a rematch with Coventry at the Skydome Arena tonight, before an early morning start on Sunday takes them to Leeds airport to fly out to Northern Ireland to take on third-placed Belfast Giants.
Blaze – who go into Saturday night’s game on the back of a four-game losing streak in the league – are yet to announce a permanent successor to Marc LeFebvre who they axed 10 days ago, but Phillips believes caretaker player-coach Steven Goertzen - who captained Steelers to play-off success last season - is the right man for the current situation at the West Midlands club.
“Steve is just an unbelievable guy and player,” said Phillips. “He just has a naturally calming influence and, because of where he’s played and how he plays the game, he just commands respect from everybody around him.
“With the team Coventry have and the results they’ve had, having someone like Goertz’ around is a good thing. He’ll do a good job there and get them playing again. We know it’s not going to be easy going in there on Saturday.”
Hull Stingrays’ player-coach Omar Pacha sees this weekend as an opportunity to close the gap on the top half of the table in the 10-team league.
They begin with tonight’s visit to Hull Arena from Nottingham Panthers before heading north of the border for a first visit of the season to second-bottom Edinburgh.
It will be a first league meeting with third-placed Panthers, although Hull will have no fear going into the game having won 6-1 in Nottingham and taking a point in a 3-2 overtime loss with Corey Nielson’s team when they met in the Challenge Cup.
“Obviously you don’t expect to win in Nottingham by that scoreline but we played a great road game,” said Pacha.
“We then had a tight game at home and were a little unlucky with the bounce at the end.
“We just need to make sure we keep it tight again, stick to the system, crash the net and make sure we are clinical when we get our chances.”
Hull and Edinburgh are tied one-all in their eight-game Gardiner Conference series, the Capitals winning 5-2 in East Yorkshire early in September before Pacha’s team gained revenge with a 2-0 triumph on home ice last month.
Four points separate the teams going into the weekend, with Edinburgh on the road at Dundee Stars tonight before welcoming the Stingrays tomorrow.
“It is our first game in Edinburgh and the big rink will suit us with our speed and tenacity,” added Pacha.
“This weekend is a chance for us to go .500 and a chance to go closer to mid-table.
“We are on a two-game winning streak and we know we can get closer to the pack above us and move away from those below us.”